Cliff May

Seldom discussed is the possibility that -- dire as the situation may now be -- it would become worse were peaceful Iraqis left to the tender mercies of the foreign terrorists, Saddamist insurgents and sectarian militias who have been committing the mass murders.

Also given scant attention: How many of those killed may have been foreign terrorists, Saddamist insurgents and members of sectarian militias?

One reason these questions can be elided is that in Iraq, the media have adopted the strange practice of not naming the perpetrators of killings – unless the perpetrators might happen to be Americans. As the scholar Michael Rubin has pointed out, the use of the passive voice in the media has become routine. For example, a recent McClatchy story read: “Nearly 2,700 Iraqi civilians were killed in the city in September.”

“Well, who killed them?” Rubin asks. “Baathist insurgents or Iranian-backed militias? If the public read that Iranian-backed militias killed nearly 2700 civilians, we might be less willing to reward their murderers.”

Another example, this one from The New York Times: “Most of the 500 municipal workers who have been killed here since 2005 have been trash collectors.” Rubin notes: “Again, someone did the killing. Why hide it? It's important to know what we are up against.”

Not identifying the killers makes it hard for people to direct outrage against them -- and easy to direct it against Americans. Has there ever before been a war in which journalists have given such a gift to their country's enemies?

But this war is different. In this war, bullets and bombs are used at least as much to send messages as to kill and maim. And the media are for manipulating. One side makes full use of these changes. American political leaders seem not yet to fully comprehend what they are up against; much less have they begun to respond effectively.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.